July 7, 2013

Kayak thrills aplenty on Maine waters

An expert says the Kennebec River is an accessible gem that isn't very crowded.

By PAUL KOENIG Kennebec Journal

Paddlers in the capital area looking for a canoe or kayak excursion during this recent stretch of warm weather don't have to travel far for a trip with plenty of wildlife and areas to practice their open-water skills.

click image to enlarge

Paddlers on the Kennebec River in Gardiner enjoy a slice of outdoors space that is underused, some say.

Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

The paddling trip from Waterville to Augusta, or even farther south to Gardiner, is an underrated trip compared to more popular waterways, according to an outdoor recreation planner for the state.

"It's really kind of a little gem of a river trip that's very accessible for people that live here," said Rex Turner, of the Maine Division of Parks and Public Lands.

He said the lower Kennebec River trip doesn't usually come to people's minds as a paddling destination, unlike the Allagash Wilderness Waterway or the east bank of the Penobscot River.

Even so, Turner said the Kennebec River trip feels more remote and has a richer wildlife experience than some might expect in a more developed part of the state.

He said paddlers can spot sturgeons, eagles, ospreys, turtles, herring and more during the trek, which include some stretches that are like light rapids.

"You don't have to be an experienced whitewater paddler to get out and enjoy that river," Turner said.

Steve Toothaker, a Maine guide who runs a guided kayak and canoe trip service out of Caratunk and Newburgh, agreed that the lower Kennebec River trip feels more secluded than one might imagine.

"Even though it's fairly close to Augusta and Waterville, it gives you a pretty remote feeling there along the river," he said.

Toothaker takes people on guided kayak or canoe trips in various waterways for his business, Bullfrog Adventures. He recommends reaching Augusta at low tide or when the tide is going out, because an incoming tide can make paddling more difficult.

Multiple public boat landings between Waterville and Gardiner allow paddlers to take shorter or longer trips, with the length of a trip depending on the paddlers and the water condition.

Turner suggested considering the 17-mile Waterville-to-Augusta trip as not quite a full day, and half of that trip as a morning or afternoon activity.

He said he's paddled from Waterville to Sidney in a 15-foot kayak in an hour, while the same stretch took half a day in a canoe with children.

Turner said boaters also can continue another 10 miles past Gardiner to Swan Island in Richmond or paddle a little farther to reach Merrymeeting Bay.

He said the coastal surroundings near the mouth of the Kennebec River look like "a whole other world" compared to the Augusta and Waterville area.

The river becomes tidal in Augusta, so the father south boaters go, the more ocean tides affect paddling speed, Turner said.

Areas of the Kennebec River closer to the coast also bring more boat traffic and stronger wind, he said.

Kayakers and canoeists can take the trip down the Kennebec River on their own, but there are options for guided tours, including an annual paddle with historical re-enactors.

Old Fort Western in Augusta organizes a trip from Fort Halifax in Winslow to Augusta's Eastside Boat Landing each year.

The event this year will be held during the Great Maine Outdoors Weekend, scheduled for Sept. 27 to 29.

Linda Novak, the fort's director and curator, said Old Fort Western re-enactors dress in period clothing and paddle a replica bateau -- a flat-bottomed boat -- to simulate the trips settlers took between the forts.

Turner, who joined the fort-to-fort trip last year, said knowing more about the history along the river can add to the experience.

"I think the idea of having a guide or latching on to a program or event -- those are all great things to do and a good way to learn skills and learn natural and cultural history you might otherwise miss," he said.

Paul Koenig can be contacted at 621-5663 or at:

pkoenig@mainetoday.com

 

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